“The very first scene I filmed for The Hills was when I was laying out by the pool where I lived and I met Heidi. Adam DiVello, the producer, had been at the Villas the week before and came up to me asking if I’d be interested in doing the show. It was just one of those lucky Hollywood stories, right place, right time. I remember the first time I cried while being taped. Justin Bobby picked me up on his Harley and we went to a party and later, he just left without saying goodbye. I was emotional and we were drinking. That’s when Lauren made me laugh by saying ‘homeboy wore combat boots to the beach.’ The new show is a little older, a little sexier, and more adult.”
The Hills Are Alive
As MTV’s hit show readies for its comeback, former and current cast members reminisce about growing up, getting famous, and altering reality long before social media came on the scene.
Once upon a time, in a land not far from the corner of Wilshire and La Brea, two blondes on the cusp of a peculiar new kind of fame met by the pool and embraced. Lauren Conrad had just arrived at her new Los Angeles apartment complex, and her roommate Heidi Montag was already there, wearing a tiny green bikini and working on her tan. The young stars of The Hills had arrived, and reality would never be the same again. It was May 31st, 2006, and these were the first few frames of MTV’s follow-up to the popular reality series Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, which had constituted the network’s effort to capitalize on the massive success of the scripted Fox series The O.C., a sexy soap about privileged California teens behaving badly. Where Laguna Beach had followed Conrad and her friends (privileged California teens behaving only occasionally badly) for their final two years of high school, The Hills would follow Conrad’s transition to young adult life about an hour and a half up the 405: new friends, new boys, new drama. It was post–Sex and the City, pre–Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and smack in the middle of a Devil Wears Prada takeover of the zeitgeist. Thirteen years later, those California girls are all grown up, and several are back for more, set to star in The Hills: New Beginnings, a reboot of the show that first made them famous.
Conrad was the original narrator, and the character around whom the rest of the cast—Montag; their neighbor, Audrina Patridge; Conrad’s childhood best friend Lo Bosworth; Conrad’s work friend Whitney Port, and a slew of rotating male romantic interests and peripheral work associates—orbited. It was all set in a sun-drenched fantasy called Los Angeles, where everyone was good looking, but not improbably so, and things always got dramatic enough to be interesting, but nothing too serious ever happened. There were parties, celebrity cameos, flirting and fighting, toxic relationships, epic screaming matches, extended pregnant pauses, stressful workplace confrontations, and arguably television’s most famous single, mascara-filled tear. The show was a massive hit: during the series’ run, up to 4.8 million viewers were tuning in each week to join in on what producers later called a “fun, six-season trip to California”, and they were invested in the stories, the lifestyle, the jobs, and even the clothes they saw on screen. (This eventually translated to merch: Kitson, a West Hollywood boutique popular at the time with paparazzi targets like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears, at one point sold T-shirts during The Hills’ run that read “Team Lauren” or “Team Heidi,” reflecting an on-screen friend breakup.)
They’re back! And so is the bingeable drama that defined the early aughts. Back then, Whitney, Heidi, Audrina, and Mischa—our April cover stars—launched a different kind of celebrity: one who looked like us, talked like us, and cried like us. But times have changed, and so have they.
Of course, not everything has changed. Today, for example, we’re sitting at The Ivy in Los Angeles, discussing nip slips and tattoos.
The girls are crowded around a table at the legendary restaurant, which is known for its paparazzi-friendly outdoor seating. For decades, paps have loitered across the street to capture photos of its patrons, who are typically an eclectic mix of famous people, people who used to be famous, and people who would very much like to be famous.
“I’ve had a nipple slip at The Ivy before,” Whitney Port, 34, says with a sly smile. “I remember when nip slips were the most embarrassing thing ever. I had one here and one in Miami. And now it’s like, whatever. It’s a fucking nipple.” Heidi Pratt, 32, nods in agreement.
Audrina Patridge, 33, says that the last time she was here, she ran into Ashlee Simpson.
“I haven’t hung out with Ashlee since, like, 10 years ago,” Mischa Barton, 33, offers. “I have a couple of funny stories about her. One time, we were waiting for her at dinner and I texted her, and she was like, ‘I just stopped off to get a tattoo.’ Just a quick before-dinner tattoo! I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t think you’re going to make it to dinner.’”
We all laugh. It’s so Ashlee.
Seeing these girls together again feels eerily familiar—and so right that I practically hear Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” playing in the background as each of them enters the restaurant. I can picture their full names written below their faces.
“Reality television is now a way of life,” says Justin Robert Brescia, the hirsute heartthrob better known in the late aughts as Justin Bobby. Huddled in white terrycloth robes next to a swimming pool in Beverly Hills, Brescia and his former MTV castmates have been reunited in anticipation of The Hills: New Beginnings, a reboot of the reality show The Hills (2006–2010), which was a spin-off of another reality show called Laguna Beach (2004–2006), itself a loose interpretation of Fox’s sudsy teen drama The O.C. (2003–2007). If the franchise made celebrities out of Brescia and his band of maudlin merrymakers, it also turned them into test pilots for today’s round-the-clock strain of rampant exhibitionism.
But the biggest difference between “reality” then and now has less to do with the players and everything to do with the audience, whose bullshit detector has evolved considerably since the passing of the torch from Sharon Osbourne to Kris Jenner. There was a time when Spencer Pratt, the anti-hero of The Hills, would make money for ratcheting up the drama at the expense of documentary— take, for instance, the moment when he kicked his future wife, Heidi Pratt (née Montag), out of his car during an argument, a scene they actually filmed ten times before going to dinner. “We got a million-dollar ratings bonus if we got to [a certain number of viewers], so whatever they wanted from me, I had no problem doing it,” says Spencer. “But that’s not the case this time.”
In a camera-ready culture, where everyone is the star of their own feed, it’s no longer necessary for producers to shoehorn personalities into 22-minute narratives. As cast member and self-described reality superfan Whitney Port puts it: “The audience is okay with just watching people gossip at lunch. They want to see people’s personalities as opposed to being entertained all the time. Reality television allows me to veg and not think about anything else. Some might look at it as a shallow version of meditation.”
The Hills is being revived at a time when the genre has produced America’s most successful mogul family — and, arguably, its president. To snark at reality television today is to snark at reality itself. Diving head-first into that juggernaut of meta-ness, The Hills: New Beginnings has replaced its former star, Lauren Conrad, with Mischa Barton, the actress whose introduction to fame came as Marissa Cooper on The O.C. “I swear to God, I got thrown into this last minute,” she says. “I was approached from every angle, by everyone I know. I ignored it at first, and then I got on a couple of calls with the producers and MTV. Then before I knew it, I was in serious talks with them.” For Barton and the lot, the rest is still, gloriously, unwritten.
“I feel like a lot girls have grown up with us. And I still meet a lot of people to this day who tell me they’ve been through what I went through. People just walk up to me and start telling me about their lives, because they feel like we’re friends.” Says Audrina.
Audrina Patridge was spotted out in Los Angeles on August 28, 2018 with The Hills co-star Stephanie Pratt.
Audrina and Stephanie were spotted filming a scene for the The Hills: New Beginnings. Cameras snapped the co-stars, donning high-waisted jeans and heels, as they shared an embrace on the street.
Candids > 2018 > Out In LA – August 28, 2018